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Friday, January 27, 2006


I am going to apologise in advance for using this phrase but I cannot think of a better one, this Western Mail columnist is a complete airhead. She has written a piece for today's paper that argues that gay men do not make good party leaders or Prime Ministers because their lifestyles are "divorced from the norm".

According to Lowri Turner, the only person who should be PM is a white middle class man or women with 2.4 kids and a mortgage. What nonsense. Even if a there was such a thing as a 'normal lifestyle' anymore, it is a surefire bet that those politicians who fit her stereotype no longer live it. That is doubly-true if these politicians are very successful.

Ms. Turner claims that some of her best friends are gay, however their 'biggest headache is whether to have a black sofa or a cream one. If they have a child it is a dog.' I would respectfully suggest that her gay friends are not typical either and neither is she. In fact I would humbly submit that she leave the office a bit more and get a life.

A person's sexuality has nothing to do with their competence or their ability to relate to people and their lives. I have known Simon Hughes, the object of her scorn, for nearly 20 years and can testify that there are very good reasons why he continuously bucks the trend and wins what was once a safe Labour constituency with a good majority over and over again. These are that he works damned hard, he relates to ordinary people regardless of ethnicity, sexual preference or other circumstances and he is good at his job. I can think of no better reasons why he should be Party Leader or Prime Minister.

Ms. Turner also tries her hand at a bit of political punditry, repeating allegations that Simon Hughes has let go for reasons of his own. She says that 'Simon Hughes went as far as to use his supposed heterosexuality to fight a vicious by-election campaign against gay rights activist Peter Tatchell. Twenty years ago, his party material told South London voters he was the "straight choice".'

I was at the Bermondsey by-election and I can categorically say that this is not the case. It is true that there was a viciously homophobic campaign fought against Peter Tatchell and that Simon benefited from it, however it did not originate from his team. In fact most of it came from the independent candidates in the election. As an aside, I recall stopping off at a pub in-between leafleting sessions and having a discussion with some of the regulars at which they made it clear that they had heard rumours that Simon may be gay but that this was not going to stop them voting for him.

The evidence that the Liberal Democrats conducted a homophobic campaign appears to centre on one leaflet, which Ms. Turner claims portrayed Simon as "the straight choice". What the leaflet actually says is that "this election is a straight choice". To some people this may be semantics but there is an important distinction. The leaflet was trying to portray the election as a two-horse race between Labour and the Liberal Democrats. It did so in language that was common to all Alliance literature at that time. Not only was the same phrase used in the 1985 Brecon and Radnorshire by-election but I have a leaflet from the 1986 West Derbyshire by-election that repeats it. Presumably, the fact that I have such a leaflet makes me atypical in Lowri Turner's eyes and therefore not fitted to be leader of my party.
I disagree with your version of events with regards to the conduct of your party during the Bermondsey by-election.

However, I agree with what you say 100% re: Lowri Turner, she's a loon. Why on earth they published that column today is beyond me.
Well said Peter. I do not have the obviously dubious benefit of regular access to this particular local rag, but it sounds like countless other scribblers up and down the land!
quote from you blog

"I can think of no better reasons why he should not be Party Leader or Prime Minister."

- should that 'not' be there?
Oops yes. I have now corrected it.
Peter do you have a copy of the Lib dem leaflet from Brecon and Radnor that proclaimed the Lib dem candidate as the only one from a "stable family background"?

Yes I know the lib dems apologised after the leaflet was delivered and after it had been reported extensivelky in the press...
I have never been comfortable about the whole of that campaign, as Peter knows, and I said that to him in the past . . . Where there were things that were inappropriate or wrong, I apologise for that
- Simon Hughes

So what did Simon Hughes apologise for?
No I do not have that leaflet nor do I see its relevance to this post. However, looking at all the literature that was put out in that by-election here it is far from clear whether the alleged offence took the form you suggest. It certainly seems to be more subtle than just saying that Richard was the "only candidate from a stable family background", in fact I would dispute those words were used at all.
David, I do not know what Simon was apologising for but it is likely that he feels guilty at benefiting from the homophobic campaign against Tatchell. Maybe he has started to believe the myth.

There is some evidence that individual Liberal Democrats went along with it but that was never sanctioned or encouraged by the campaign itself. There was a febrile atmosphere about the whole election campaign and things were pretty confused as to who was saying what but I sincerely believe that Simon and his team were not involved and there is no evidence to the contrary.

I was at the Bermondsey by-election and I can categorically say that this is not the case

I'm unclear about this, Peter.

Tatchell has forgiven Simon Hughes and even gone so far as to say he'd support him in the leadership election if he had a vote in it - but he's also said that Liberal canvassers on the doors repeated rumours about Tatchell's sexuality, wore badges proclaiming they'd been kisssed by Peter Tatchell, and that the Libs published a leaflet pointedly calling Hughes 'the straight choice'.

So what are you now saying was 'categorically not the case'?
There has been much discussion recently about the extent to which people can legitimately comment on gay lifestyles: wherever it is that a line should be drawn, Ms Turner was way over it. And having sacked the arts minister as a columnist I suggest the Western Mail does the same to Ms T.
This was homophobia disguised as feely-feely, 'I'm on your side really' comment.
Where has she been the last ten years: gay (and more to the point perhaps, bisexual) men can marry (ish), adopt children (or have them through earlier relationships just like divorced/seperated/widowed heterosexual couples)and, yes horror or horrors, become prime minister. We have, after all, had plenty of philanderers, liars and cheats in the post, as well as distinguished asexual ones: why not someone who only wants to do it with their own sex? Or both? (Actually Ms Turner didn't seemed to rule out a lesbian PM, now does she know something we don't - only kidding).
And as for her qualifications for doing the job: well, getting the kids their vacinations was, well, kid's stuff. I've held hands whilst youngest daughter had stitches in her eyebrow (ouch) and held hands while partner (much more noisily it has to be revealed) had his multiple breaks in a leg fixed. If that doesn't qualify me for the job ....
If you read Tatchell's book "The battle for Bermondsey" you will see that he puts the blame for the homophobic campaign against him on other candidates and largely exonorates the Liberals.

I dispute that Liberals repeated rumours about Tatchell's sexuality, there is no proof for this and in any case they were not rumours as he was already 'out'.

I agree that the party sat back and did not actively condemn the campaign being conducted against Tatchell and I believe that it is this that Simon is apologising for.

I have already acknowledged that some individual members wore badges that proclaimed that they had kissed Tatchell but this was not sanctioned by the Hughes campaign and was discouraged wherever possible. A number of the Liberals who wore those badges were gay themselves but that does not excuse them.

I have already dealt with the leaflet in the post and suggest you re-read it. It actually said that 'this election is a straight choice' - a completely different meaning and a slogan used in other by-elections.

I cannot confirm this but I believe that the word 'straight' did not have the same connotations in the early 1980s as it does now but that is not really a material point as the word was not used in that way.

Finally, we should not forget that other parties have engaged in homophobic campaigns including Labour who, just before the June 2004 local elections, 'outed' the now Liberal Democrat leader of Cardiff Council in the press in the hope of getting some political gain from it. Most voters in Cardiff shrugged their shoulders and indicated that they couldnt care less.
they were not rumours as he was already 'out'

Not exactly correct, Peter. Tatchell himself says, 'my one big regret is that I wasn't totally open about my sexuality'.

And besides, the Libs (and everyone else) was using it not as innocent fact but as an appeal to the worst prejudices.

And was this discouraged? Andy Ellis, the Lib agent:

Nothing went on in Bermondsey that we were unhappy with

And in fact, straight's been synonymous with heterosexual since the 1940s at least.

And Simon Hughes wasn't only apologising for inaction. Here's what he has said:

I apologise for any part that I wittinglyor unwittingly played

The facts are all there for you to read and listen to. Why not accept what happened and move on - as Hughes and Tatchell themselves both appear to have done.
The facts are as I have set them out. There is no evidence that the Liberals used Tatchell's sexuality to appeal to people's "worst prejudices".

If you have quoted Andy Ellis correctly then he is absolutely correct - there is nothing we did as part of the Simon Hughes campaign that we are unhappy about. That is because the homophobic material came from others.

I accept what you say about the way that 'straight' has been understood since the 1940s but it is irrelevant as we did not use it in that way as any impartial reading of our literature will confirm.

Simon Hughes apology is vague enough to cover all eventualities so much so that I would suggest that he no longer has a clear recollection of events - others do. As I have said it is likely that he was apologising for unwittingly benefiting from a homophobic campaign and for wittingly omitting to criticise those other parties who were running it.

I am happy to move on but not with a distorted and inaccurate recollection of events.

Here's the leaflet you might recall distributing:


You've said that Tatchell was already out. Tatchell seems to have a different memory - he's said his big regret that he weasn't, really, fully out. Tatchell also says, 'The Liberals fought a very dirty campaign during the Bermondsey by-election'.

You suggest that Simon Hughes doesn't recollect accurately what happened but that you do. Meanwhile Simon Hughes has apologised.

I prefer to believe the two main candidates.
David, the leaflet says precisely what I have been asserting all along and undermines your argument that it was promoting Simon as 'The straight choice' - it was not.

I have accepted what you say that Tatchell was not fully 'out' but that is besides the point. The Liberal campaign DID NOT target his sexuality as you and others allege.

What I said was that Simon's apology was vague enough to cover all eventualities. It does not amount to an admission that he ran a homophobic campaign though it does acknowledge that he benefited from it and that he omitted to condemn it. That is perfectly consistent with what I have been saying and as you are prepared to believe him then by implication you are also accepting what I say.
We're not going to agree here.

Tatchell says he wasn't properly out, you said he was. You refer to Hughes benefitting only incidentally from others' homophobia, Hughes himself apologised for 'witting' acts - and I'm prepared to believe him.

The leaflet calls Hughes the straight choice, very pointed wording in the context, supporting my point.

I think maybe the best advice would have been for Hughes to refuse to answer questions about his personal life. That would have sent exactly thr same signal but at least he couldn't have had the charge of being misleading levelled at him. A difficult position for him. I've never been keen on his Chrisianity, myself.

Still. That Lowri Turner, eh?
We are not going to agree David because you persist in not reading properly what I say and because you continue to maintain a fiction that is unsupported by the evidence that you offer.

I have already accepted your assertion that Tatchell was not fully out is correct. However, I have also said that it is not relevant as it was not the Liberal campaign that focussed on his sexuality but that of others.

The leaflet DOES NOT SAY that Hughes is "the straight choice", if we are looking for 'pointed wording in context' then its message that "This election is a straight choice" is completely different and perfectly valid. As I have said it was common wording and even used recently by an 'out' Liberal Democrat candidate to promote his own campaign in another election.

Hughes did not apologise for "witting acts", he apologised for "ANY PART that I WITTINGLY OR UNWITTINGLY PLAYED". In other words it is a general apology that he benefited from the homophobic campaign and that he failed to speak out against it. There is no reference to any specific acts.

Finally, I do agree with you that Simon should have told reporters questioning him about his private life that it is none of their business. That he did not do so is an error of judgement in my view.
I think it's time to move on from Bermondsey. Peter Tatchell has, after all. I'm pleased Peter Black has drawn attention to the moronic article witten by the 'star' of the last series of ITV's Fat Club. I actually have no problem with trash like this being published as it simply reflects homophobic attitudes which sadly do exist. I'm sick of people telling me that no one cares about a person's sexuality these days. However, I do hope the 'National Newspaper of Wales' will balance Turner's article with a different perspective soon. I wrote a letter on Friday and I know others did. None have been pubished to date.
Peter, I wouldn't apologise for calling her an airhead; I was planning to write that one up on a line-by-line attack, but time didn't allow. It was going to be called Lowri Turner: Ignorant Bigot. Given the pagerank of the site it would've been on, it would have topped Google for searches of her name within a week.

I may still do it anyway, I think she deserves it. Wonder if she's still got any gay friends? Oh, agree with your analysis of Bermondsey, I'd read lots about it all over the place long before this blew up; disagree over Hughes for leader, he's currently 3rd in my rankings, and was from when Huhne threw his hat in.
Out of interest, and since I don't read the Western Mail very often, has it published any of the letters of complaint it's no doubt received about Lowri Turner's article?
Yes, quite a few letters have been published including mine.
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